Thursday, February 16, 2012

No one should burn in prison!

A woman cries outside the National Prison compound in Comayagua, Honduras, after a devastating fire.
A woman cries outside the National Prison compound in Comayagua, Honduras, after a devastating fire.
  • In central Honduras, more than 300 inmates burned or suffocated to death in a prison
  • Frida Ghitis: In 21st century, we cannot force prisoners to live in medieval conditions
  • Countries rich and poor are guilty of prison disasters, Ghitis says
  • She says that regardless of their crimes, prisoners deserve to be treated humanely
Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer/correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television."
(CNN) -- In central Honduras, more than 300 inmates burned or suffocated to death in a prison. One can only imagine the cries of those trapped in their cells, while no one could find a key to let them escape the flames. We can only try to comprehend the agony of the prisoners' parents, children, relatives or friends as they saw the images on television, wondering whether their loved ones survived or, if they died, how much they suffered in their final moments.
The horrific tragedy at Honduras, a small impoverished country in Central America, brings to the forefront an issue that has long been ignored: Abysmal prison conditions.
Across the world, in rich and poor countries alike, many people who are sentenced to prison suffer unspeakable conditions. Even if we assume that those incarcerated have gone through a fair trial, nothing justifies condemning individuals to live below the minimum level of human decency.
Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis
Even in normal times, few people have the inclination to worry about the dregs of society -- those who have been locked away because they have committed crimes. But our own humanity says we must do something. In the 21st century, we cannot force prisoners to live in medieval conditions.
Inhuman prison standards have become the human rights violation of our time, neglected by those who make a lot of noise about freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Scores of countries are routinely violating international agreements on the treatment of prisoners without facing any consequences. It's time for that to stop.
Dignified and humane treatment of prisoners -- including fire prevention measures -- should become a requirement for good standing in the international community.
Whether this week's prison fire started accidentally or was deliberately set, the moral and probably the legal responsibility of this tragedy lies with the authorities whose duty it was to guard and, yes, protect the prisoners, no matter what their crimes were.
Almost 300 die in Honduras prison fire
Honduras has a shameful history of prison disasters, followed by promises of reform, and then more disasters. More than 100 inmates died in a 2004 prison fire, and 86 died in a 2003 prison riot. The abysmal conditions of the prisons have caused these catastrophes.
But Honduras is hardly alone.
A few years ago, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner toured prisons in France and labeled some of them as "dungeons." He described two of the facilities as "on the borderline of human dignity." Hundreds of prisoners have committed suicide in France in recent years.
In the U.S., Human Rights Watch says in many facilities, imprisoned and detained individuals -- who may not have been tried or found guilty of any crime -- "confront conditions that are abusive, degrading and dangerous." For example, authorities and the public have often held a casual if not dismissive attitude toward prison rape and the murder of sexual offenders by other inmates. If a society wants to sentence anyone to death, it should defend that decision through formal channels, not let prisoners do the dirty work.
Some of the biggest prison populations are in Russia and China. Many Chinese prisoners endure brutal hard labor producing goods the country then sells for profit. Russian prisons are notorious for deputizing inmates to brutally enforce discipline. Diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis are rampant, as is malnutrition.
In many countries, tough tough drug laws have triggered an explosion in prison population, creating a condition of overcrowding and all that follows.
A growing menace is drug gangs. Some authorities have lost control of what goes on inside the prisons to gangs. I once met a prison guard in Peru who told me he would be afraid to step in the yard of the prison where he worked. As a result, gangs rule, sometimes in "Lord of the Flies" fashion, demanding payment and loyalty from fellow prisoners in exchange for protection from violence or rape, and even for food and water.
A little more than a year ago, the Security Minister of Honduras remarked that prisons have become "universities of crime." Inmates may be jailed for minor crimes, but after years of abuse, they emerge as hardened criminals, who will exact payment from society. And that payment will hurt. Honduras urgently needs to review its prison facilities, relieve overcrowding and improve safety standards.
Unjustified deaths in prison occur practically everywhere. The measure of our humanity is how we treat those not in a position to defend themselves. Regardless of their crimes, prisoners deserve to be treated humanely.
Consider the hundreds of people crying for their lives in that Honduran prison, or in other prisons around the world. A civilized, moral society should do everything in its power to prevent such suffering. And any country that allows it to go on should feel the pressure to change.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Oil power struggle as U.S. leaves Iraq

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Oil returning Kurdistan to former glory
  • Fight brewing over who has the rights to sign oil contracts for Iraq's Kurdish region
  • Exxon Mobil signed a deal with the Kurdish regional government that Baghdad says is illegal
  • Gulf Keystone says it is working an oil field of at least 8 billion barrels -- one of the largest oil fields covered in this part of the world
  • As Kurds insist they should sign the oil contracts, they also remember Saddam Hussein attempts to wipe out their communities
Erbil, Iraq (CNN) -- Along the road in the semi-autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan frozen oil bleeds out of the rock face.
For Todd Kozel, CEO of the independent oil and gas exploration and production company Gulf Keystone, it was an irresistible lure at the time few were daring to invest in Kurdistan.
But not all is well in Kurdistan and old arguments with Baghdad over oil power and revenue are likely to loom large as U.S. forces withdraw from the country.
Kozel says Kurdistan offers opportunity. "To be able to compete with majors we have to be able to go places and do things and try to find opportunities that are unconventional," he says.
"After that first visit, I never looked back. After visiting Kurdistan in June of 2006 and literally seeing oil running down rocks at a road cut, I was just fascinated. I had to be here and I had to participate."
At the site where it all began, Shaikhan 1, drill manager Michael Chisnall remembers the day they realized they had hit it big.
"As we carried on the drilling process it was one of those things where I use to say to Todd or send an email everyday with an operational update that we have a big problem. We just cannot stop finding oil."
Iraqi Kurds worry about future
Kurds anxious over U.S. troop withdrawal
Iraq fuming over Exxon-Kurdistan deal
Initially they had estimated the Shaikhan field held about a billion barrels of oil.
"It's turned out to be something that we never would have dreamed, that it would be this size. It's now an oil field of 8-13.5 billion barrels and that's one of the largest oil fields covered in this part of the world in history," Kozel says.
The risk he took turned out to be well worth the reward.
"Our market capital was 45 million pounds (about $70 million) in August of 2009. Our market cap right now is 1.6 billion pounds as a result of the Shaikhan discovery."
Others have been just as intoxicated by the potential that Kurdistan holds. Oil rigs are mushrooming all over the hills, on the outskirts of cities. The exploration is entirely driven by and reliant on foreign companies able to shoulder the risk.
Exxon Mobil, the first of the majors, recently signed its own deal for six plots. It was a deal that elated the the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) but it left the central government in Baghdad fuming as oil once again ended up mired in Iraqi politics.
The KRG signs profit sharing deals, much to the ire of Baghdad -- which only signs service contracts and views the KRG deals as illegal and unconstitutional.
Iraq still doesn't have a hydrocarbons -- or oil and gas -- law.
While both sides agree that some revenues are funneled back to the central government, the dispute is over power and authority to sign contracts and the type of contract.
Both sides are so far unable to come to an agreement, and Baghdad blacklists any company that signs a deal with the KRG.
On December 5, the Iraqi Cabinet approved a revised draft budget for 2012 of 117 trillion dinars ($100 billion), government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement released on Thursday. Projected income estimates exports of 2.6 million barrels of oil per day including 175,000 barrels a day from the Kurdish Autonomous Region.
The heightened tensions manifested themselves at a recent oil and gas conference in the capital of Kurdistan, Erbil.
The Prime Minister of the KRG, Barham Salih addressed the conference, emphasizing: "I also say to our partners in Baghdad very clearly, Kurdistan has a constitutional right to develop its own oil resources."
Speaking on behalf of Baghdad, Moaffak al-Rubaei, former national security advisor slammed back calling the deal illegal, threatening to ban and sue the oil giant.
"In Baghdad some people view this contract to be targeting the federal government, to weaken the federal government and it has some political connotations."
But the Kurds will not be stopped.
"Development of oil resources in Kurdistan is a contribution to the Iraqi economy," Salih told CNN.
"But there is also one other factor. Our recent history is very instructive. There is no way that we will be dissuaded from our constitutional right to developing our resources and allow ourselves to ever again become hostages to the whims of some bureaucrats in Baghdad. We've been there before. Oil was used to strangle our people, to commit genocide."
In the late 1980s Saddam Hussein led a vicious Arabization campaign against the Kurds, forcibly displacing them from their homes and replacing them with Arabs. Entire villages were razed to the ground. Other places like Halabja were gassed with deadly chemical agents.
There is a continuing territorial dispute between the region of Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq, which is under the command of the predominantly Shi'a Arab central government in Baghdad.
The current Kurd-Arab tensions don't just center around land, but what's underneath it. Billions and billions of barrels of black gold are in disputed territories, like the oil rich city of Kirkuk, all of which lends to the volatility.
The Kurds for their part are extremely worried about the vulnerable state that the U.S. is leaving Iraq in.
"There is one fundamental topic for Iraq, one fundamental challenge," Salih says. "Where do you want to be 10 years from now? Would we want to risk another centralized dictatorship with access to oil resources and turn it into weapons and tear into the communities and the people of Iraq here again? Absolutely not."
Iraq's tantalizing oil wealth could very easily turn from a blessing into a curse.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Package sent to Deutsche Bank CEO was bomb!!

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - A suspicious envelope sent to Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Josef Ackermann - the face of capitalism inGermany - was a functioning letter bomb, investigators said on Thursday.
No one has so far claimed responsibility for the package, which was intercepted late on Wednesday.
It raised fears that a wave of protests against the failures and excesses of bankers could turn more violent, and prompted police across Europe to warn banks to be extra vigilant.
Ackermann, 63, a Swiss who is the first non-German to head Germany's biggest bank, is one of the few senior managers in the country always surrounded by bodyguards.
"Initial investigations show that this was an operational letter bomb," the Criminal Investigations Office for the state of Hesse and Frankfurt prosecutors in a statement.
Frankfurt's offshoot of the Occupy protest movement, which is critical of banks and has been staging protests in New York, Washington, London and many other cities, said it had nothing to do with the attempted attack.
"We condemn any action that is linked to violence," said Frank Stegmaier, an activist in the Occupy Frankfurt group, which has been camping outside the European Central Bank in the German financial capital since mid-October.
"Occupy has other ways of protesting," he added.
Security has been stepped up at Deutsche Bank offices around the world, banking sources said. One insider said the number of threats against Ackermann had increased in recent months and his security would be increased, although there were no plans to cancel public appearances.
Two Greek commercial banks said they had already been operating under top security conditions after similar letter bomb incidents last year.
One banking source said that since 2006 every item of mail sent to members of Deutsche Bank's executive committee was put through a security check.
"We are deeply affected by the violent assault on our CEO Josef Ackermann," a spokesman for Deutsche Bank said. Employees heading to work, however, said they did not feel threatened.
"There are always people who think a solution would be to make someone pay, but as an employee, I do not feel threatened," Stefan Popp told Reuters Television.
European leaders were to meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday to try to agree on a way out of a sovereign debt crisis that has triggered a wave of government austerity measures and caused Germans to fret they may have to foot the bill.
Some experts said the euro zone debt crisis could have triggered the attempted attack.
"It seems likely the incident is linked to the groundswell of public anger toward the banking sector, as highlighted by a number of anti-capitalist protests around the world," said Louise Taggart, Europe and Eurasia analyst at AKE Group.
"A likely explanation is that the letter bomb was sent from Greece, which is facing a particularly difficult economic situation following the implementation of severe austerity measures," she said.
A letter bomb sent to Chancellor Angela Merkel last year originated in Greece and is thought to have been linked to an anarchist group in reaction to the extreme austerity measures.
The police said they were unaware of any further letter bombs having being sent.
"We have no indications that other countries are affected. There is no sign that there are other letter bombs," Udo Buehler, spokesman for the Criminal Investigations Office for the state of Hesse, told Reuters Television.
Another security expert said he believed the attack came from the anti-capitalist movement in Germany which has been gaining momentum, as seen by a number arson attacks on the Berlin rail network earlier this year [ID:nL5E7LD2HE].
"I don't think a sustained campaign against business or even banking leaders is likely in Germany. Ackermann is a highly symbolic target, who has personal security wherever he goes," said David Lea, a senior analyst for Europe at Control Risks.
Ackermann is the highest-paid chief executive of a German blue-chip company, earning 9 million euros ($12 million) in 2010. He is chairman of the Institute of International Finance, the bank lobbying group negotiating a private-sector contribution toward a multi-billion euro bailout of Greece.
Due to retire as chief executive in May after more than 10 years at the head of Deutsche, he is credited with transforming the bank into a "global champion," and has become associated with Wall Street-style bonuses and a shareholder-driven management style.
Last month, Ackermann was whistled and shouted at by Occupy Movement members during a speech in the city of Hamburg.
A previous Deutsche Bank head, Alfred Herrhausen, was murdered in 1989 by leftist Red Army Faction guerrillas who blew up his car.
(Additional reporting by Sabine Wollrab, Ed Taylor, Philipp Halstrick, Reuters TV and Harry Papachristou in Athens, William Maclean in London; Writing by Madeline Chambers in Berlin, Editing by Rosalind Russell)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Libya — Protests and Revolt (2011)

Libya, an oil-rich nation in North Africa, spent more than 40 years under the firm, if erratic, leadership of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. But in February 2011, the unrest sweeping through much of the Arab world erupted in several Libyan cities. Though it began with a relatively organized core of antigovernment opponents in Benghazi, its spread to the capital of Tripoli was swift and spontaneous. Colonel Qaddafi lashed out with a level of violence unseen in either of the other uprisings, but an inchoate opposition cobbled together the semblance of a transitional government, fielded a makeshift rebel army and portrayed itself to the West and Libyans as an alternative to Colonel Qaddafi's corrupt and repressive rule.
Momentum shifted quickly, however, and the rebels faced the possibilty of being outgunned and outnumbered in what increasingly looked like a mismatched civil war. Then as Colonel Qaddafi’s troops advanced to within 100 miles of Benghazi, the rebel stronghold in the west, the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military action, a risky foreign intervention aimed at averting a bloody rout of the rebels by loyalist forces. On March 19, American and European forces began a broad campaign of strikes against Colonel Qaddafi and his government, unleashing warplanes and missiles in a military intervention on a scale not seen in the Arab world since the Iraq war.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

What is Good Friday?

Good Friday was the day on which Jesus died. Good Friday is a Friday before Easter Sunday. It is a religious day on which Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his death. It is believed that lord died on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday. Good Friday is called so because christen believe that Jesus sacrificed his life for humanity and good of everyone.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

The Next Housing Shock

As more and more Americans face mortgage foreclosure, banks' crucial ownership documents for the properties are often unclear and are sometimes even bogus, a condition that's causing lawsuits and hampering an already weak housing market. Scott Pelley reports.

Read more here.